THE BEST FISHING BOOKS OF ALL TIME: INSTALLMENT #4

October 2020

Introduction

The Corona virus has afforded time for many of us to fish and to also catch up on reading and reflect. While on the water when I catch a fish using a technique or fly I read about years ago, I find myself reminiscing about the best books on fishing I have had the pleasure of reading.  Some taught me a new technique like using a dry/dropper while others were fiction and just pure reading pleasure.  If you search online, you will find numerous of lists of the Top 10, 25, and even 50 angling books.   Of course these lists change from decade-to-decade as new works are published, older books fade out fashion, or interests change.  For example, the 1970s and 80s saw a plethora of tomes like Swisher and Richards Selective Trout that embraced a more scientific approach to fishing.  Once you were done reading some of these, you were nearly qualified as an entomologist.  Far fewer of that ilk have been published in the last decade.  The list I offer here is entirely personal, and given my advanced age, I hope it introduces some of the best of past, especially pre-2000 publications, to the up and coming, energetic angling young bloods of today (AKA anyone under 60). 

The format I have chosen is somewhat different than most other “best” lists.  I find it hard to compare a serious literary work of someone like Tom McGuane’s The Longest Silence with a funny-bone tickling raucous tale such as Skinny Dip by Carl Hiassen or a technical tome on caddis flies by Gary LaFontaine.  So I have divided my list into a baker’s dozen categories with a few select books in each.  I end with a category of books I have yet to read but are “musts.”  I will be posting the list in a series of five installments.  I hope you enjoy perusing my choices, and would welcome hearing of any additions you may have. 

This installment covers three categories from the list below:  Science and Entomology, Travel/Guidebooks, and Saltwater.

Installment 1 Link:  https://hooknfly.com/2020/08/01/the-best-fishing-books-of-all-time/

Installment 2 Link: https://hooknfly.com/2020/08/09/the-best-fishing-books-of-all-time-installment-2/?fbclid=IwAR3uBFsuuSQqAaiHnie6LT3Jhu-PyCm_18sjjmIQeSmognnyJ-8lVyny-34

Installment 3 Link: https://hooknfly.com/2020/09/11/the-best-fishing-books-of-all-time-installment-3/

Installment 5 Link: https://hooknfly.com/2020/10/22/best-fishing-books-of-all-time-installment-5/

The Categories:

Best Literature

The Storytellers

Anthologies

Oddities

Funny Bone Ticklers

Zen of Fishing

How To/Technical Expertise

Science and Entomology of Fishing

Travel/Guidebooks

Saltwater

History of Fishing

Fish That Shaped World History

The “To Read” List

Science and Entomology Of Fishing

Before 1970, just as I was beginning to really delve into fly fishing, aside from Ernest Schweibert’s classic Matching The Hatch, there was very little written of consequence about the wide variety of insects trout prefer, their life cycles, and how to tie flies that mimicked the various stages of their development.  Many flies bore little resemblance at all to anything a trout might actually eat.  All that changed in 1971 with Selective Trout, a 184-page tome that stressed the importance of collecting insect samples on the stream, surface and subsurface, with small nets then taking them home in little bottles to be examined under a magnifying glass or microscope followed by tying flies that were true to the natural.  Over the next 30 years more weighty works were written that went into even greater detail about caddis, may, and stone flies, the three principle insects trout dine on.  This more methodical, scientific approach to trout fishing spawned a revolution among fly anglers and an entire new catalog of artificial flies.   As one observer quipped at the time, if you finished one of these detailed books you were on the verge of a degree in entomology.   Now there are literally dozens of books on what might be categorized as fly fishing entomology.  In this section I focus on several of the early iconic books that changed the course of fly tying and fly fishing and others of more recent vintage I found to be of most practical use.  For a more detailed list of fly fishing entomological books, see the website at www.flyfishingentomology.

Matching The Hatch:  A Practical Guide to Imitation of Insects Found On Eastern and Western Trout Waters (1955)—Ernest Schweibert

Matching The Hatch was a book that was far ahead of its time, providing trout anglers with their first useful guide to identifying streamside insects and flies that matched them.  Penned by Ernest Schwiebert, one of the most prolific authors of fly-fishing tomes of all time, Matching The Hatch was such a hit in the fly-fishing community that soon after its publication he was profiled in Life magazine.  Schweibert, an architect with two doctorates who specialized in planning airports and military bases, is considered by many as the leading modern-day angling author.  In this book and others that followed such as Nymphs and the two-volume Trout, Schweibert exhibited his rare gift of being able to take a technical subject and translate it into readable, enjoyable prose.  He also wrote a series of entertaining, engaging collections of short stories such as Remembrances of Rivers Past.

Selective Trout (1970)—Doug Swisher and Carl Richards

One would hardly guess that a revolution in fishing was started by a plastic salesman and a dentist, but that’s Swisher and Richards.  I remember plunking down the princely sum of $6.95 in the early 70s to purchase their book that was being widely hailed as “a dramatically new and scientific approach to trout fishing.”  And it was.  Angling icons like Art Flick, Joe Brooks, and Dan Baily sang its praises.  Their volume is chock full of hand-drawn illustrations of bugs and artificial imitations plus color photographs of the hatches across the country.  In the wake of the book, like many other anglers, I started carrying glass vials to keep the bugs I found on a stream as well as a net to catch them on the wing and another to seine with.  While a good number of us have become a tad less dedicated to a meticulous entomological approach when we hit the water, Selective Trout forever changed the sport of fly fishing and has withstood the test of time.

Stoneflies (1980)—Carl Richards, Doug Swisher, and Fred Arbona, Jr.

This is one of my favorite entomological works because it focuses on an insect I love to imitate, particularly using nymphs, one that many anglers overlook.  Co-written by the authors of the landmark Selective Trout, this book is one of the few that provides an exhaustive examination of stoneflies, often overlooked as one of the big three of insects savored by trout alongside mayflies and caddis.  It is a weighty tome in the style of LaFontaine’s Caddis, but presents information on habitat, hatches, and imitations in a clear, readable fashion.

Caddisflies (1981)—Gary LaFontaine

This book started the caddisfly insurgency, first by demonstrating that on many waters caddisflies are the predominant aquatic food eaten by trout, then by presenting a painstakingly detailed study of the biology of caddisflies, and finally offering savvy, practical insights on tying and fishing caddisfly imitations.  At 336 pages, LaFontaine’s treatise isn’t exactly a book one might carry on the stream, but back at home and on the fly tying bench it is an essential reference.

The Complete Book of Western Hatches (1981)—Rick Hafele and Dave Hughes

Although almost 40-years old, this book is one that I still refer to from time-to-time.  Its focus on western hatches is especially valuable to Colorado anglers.  Combining for the first time the scientific knowledge of an aquatic entomologist, Rick Hafele, and the extensive hands-on experience of a noted fly fishing practitioner and author, The Complete Book of Western Hatches is organized in a highly practical and readable format.  For each aquatic insect if sets out the common name, emergence and distribution, physical characteristics, habitat, habits, appropriate flies, and presentation tips.  In 2004 the authors followed up with another excellent book, Western Mayfly Hatches.

Guide To Aquatic Trout Foods (1982)—Dave Whitlock

Most anglers know Whitlock through his many innovative fly patterns such as the venerable and still effective Dave’s Hopper.  He has also written several excellent books on fly fishing.  This is one of my favorite “bug” books mainly because Whitlock covers the eight major kinds of trout food including not only insects but also crayfish, leeches, and forage fish in a practical fashion with just the right amount of detail for the average angler.  Then in his patented practical, easy-to-read fashion Whitlock discusses best flies and fishing technique for each.  I met Whitlock in the early 1990s when I attended one of his presentations at a fly fishing show in Denver.  My autographed copy of his book is one of my prized angling library possessions. 

Mayflies (1997)—MalcolmKnopp and Robert Courmier

This book has been called “the mayfly bible for serious fly fishers.”  Written by two Canadians from Alberta who had never authored any serious fly fishing publication before,  Mayflies at almost 400 pages, is definitely the weight of authority and the book to have for those looking to take their game to the next level.

Hatch Guide For Western Streams/Hatch Guide For Lakes (1995-7)—Jim Schollmeyer

As noted above, most of the revered trout entomological books run into the hundreds of pages and are hardly tomes that the aspiring angler/ entomologist might carry on the stream for instant reference.  In contrast, Schoolmeyer’s Hatch Guide series is in a compact 4” X 6” format that is eminently portable on the water and is easily digested by novices–they remain one of the most useful of all guides in my library.  Each guide opens with a section on understanding the type of water body being fishing followed by one on tackle and technique.   The final section focuses on the main insects and other food such as beetles and leaches trout will likely be dining on.  It features clear color photographs of the insect and naturals plus three suggested flies to match the hatch.  The guide for lakes is particularly valuable as lake fishing for trout is often more challenging than in streams, each body of water seemingly inhabited by fish that can be maddingly selective.   Indeed, the last time I was skunked a few years ago it was on an alpine lake where after four hours of fishing for giant cutthroats cruising the shoreline in clear view, I managed only a couple of bites.

The Bug Book:  A Fly Fisher’s Guide To Trout Stream Insects (2015)—Paul Weamer

This excellent book provides an up-to-date guide to aquatic trout food, hatch charts, fly pattern recommendations, and fishing technique tips and strategies.  As a reviewer in Fly Fisherman magazine wrote, The Bug Book “breaks down the barriers between amateur and entomologist in a conversational tone, and explains when and why identifying insects can be fun and practical. This is no snobby book.” 

Travel/Guidebooks

I’m not a big fan of the average fishing guidebook or fishing travel account—they are usually superficial on most levels, and the authors often are not intimately familiar with the waters they write about but relay second-hand information.  But there are a few exceptions.  Those that have caught my attention inevitably have a personal touch rather than just where to go and how to fish once you get there.  Moreover, I find that if the author has actually fished the waters he writes about more than once or twice, explores the colorful characters and culture of the region inhabited by their finned quarry, and puts some of his personality on the pages, the book is likely to be more useful from a piscatorial perspective and definitely more enjoyable to read. 

Fly-Fishing The 41st Around The World On The 41st Parallel–James Prosek

This is my favorite fishing/travel book by a substantial margin.  Prosek is more widely known in the angling world for his artwork.  Indeed, the New York Times has called him the Audubon of the fishing world.  You will find some of his beautiful images illustrating this wonderful book, but it is much more.  Proseck sets off to fish around the world, following the 41st Parallel.  Along the way he meets and has amazing adventures with a host of memorable characters like Johannes, a baker in France, who takes him on harrowing quests for rare species of trout in places like the war zone of southeast Turkey.  Along the way you will come to the conclusion that angling is indeed as close a universal language as there is.  Be sure to have a world map handy so you can follow his peregrinations around the globe. 

52 Rivers: A Woman’s Fly-Fishing Journey—Shelly Walchak

Shelly Walchak quit her job as a librarian in 2013, bought a camper, and challenged herself by taking off on an incredible year-long journey through seven Rocky Mountain States to fish 52 rivers in 52 weeks.  , She recounts her adventures in 52 chapters, one for each river with great stories about fly-fishing, people she meets along the way, and her own personal joys and fears.  Each chapter is accompanied by beautiful photographs.  An incredible journey!

The Hunt for Giant Trout:  25 Best Places In the United States to Catch a Trophy—Landon Mayer

The smiling face of peripatetic fly fisherman Landon Mayer is well-known to most western anglers through the many articles he has written and seminars he has conducted at major angling shows.  Mayer, a resident of Colorado, has put together a winner with his The Hunt For Giant Trout.  Mayer first discusses strategies and techniques for the leviathans, then takes the reader on a tour of 25 locations, most in the western United States.  The book garners more cred because Mayer is joined by locals who frequently fish the chosen sites.

49 Trout Streams Of Southern Colorado—Mark Williams and W. Chad McPhail

This is one of my all-time favorite guidebooks, authored by two anglers from Amarillo, Texas.  Williams and McPhail have a friendly, engaging style as they cover most of the major rivers and streams south of Glenwood Springs, Colorado.  While they fish the well-known rivers like the Gunnison, Arkansas, and Rio Grande, the real value in the book for many anglers, including me, is the little-known small creek gems they have uncovered like the Lake Fork of the Conejos and La Jara Creek.  Two pages are devoted to each water including beautiful color photos, directions to access the creek or river, a description of the water (e.g., riffles, plunge pools, meanders), and tips on best flies. 

Fly Fishing The Gunnison Country—Doug Dillingham

This is a guidebook that in exhaustive fashion covers virtually all the main fishable rivers, streams, and mountain lakes in that trout mecca,Gunnison County, Colorado.  Dillingham is intimately familiar with each, and his extensive knowledge and unique personality comes shining through on every page.  He goes into detail regarding access points, types of fish present and data on each, hatches, and recommended flies with additional tips from local fishing guides.  All-in-all, a model of what a guidebook should be.

Central Colorado Alpine Lakes Fishing And Hiking Guide–Tom Parkes

If good stream fishing guidebooks are relatively few and far between, those that cover alpine lakes are even rarer. This one that focuses on 21 high country lakes in central Colorado is a model of what a good guidebook should be. Written by Colorado native Tom Parkes, it has clear directions regarding trailheads and access, advice on the best flies and lures, specific areas of each lake that are productive, and gorgeous photos to boot. You can readily tell that Parkes actually fished each water, often several times, over the ten-year period it took to research and write this book. I found several of my now-favorite lakes through Tom’s little gem.

Saltwater

Before recommending any books in this category, I have a confession to make with regard to saltwater sport fishing.  I am relatively new to the chase, having lived in Florida part of the year only since 2006.  Also, my fishing has been mostly inshore and backcountry, not blue water.  What is surprising is that there are relatively few books on saltwater fishing, and even fewer on saltwater fly fishing.  Saltwater fly fishing was in its formative years in the 1950s, with renowned anglers like Ted Williams, Joe Brooks, and Stu Apt leading the way.  There were few publications of any real consequence until the 1960s.  Here is a sampling of those that I have found valuable.

Before recommending any books in this category, I have a confession to make with regard to saltwater sport fishing.  I am relatively new to the chase, having lived in Florida part of the year only since 2006.  Also, my fishing has been mostly inshore and backcountry, not blue water.  What is surprising is that there are relatively few books on saltwater fishing, and even fewer on saltwater fly fishing.  Saltwater fly fishing was in its formative years in the 1950s, with renowned anglers like Ted Williams, Joe Brooks, and Stu Apt leading the way.  There were few publications of any real consequence until the 1960s.  Here is a sampling of those that I have found valuable.

SaltWater Fly Fishing (1950)–Joe Brooks

Joe Brooks was the prime mover in the 1950s in creating the sport of salt water fly fishing. He wrote this seminal book on the subject in 1950. It has been updated several times since. Brooks was perhaps the most famous fly fisherman in the 50s and 60s, helping Curt Gowdy to create the first television hunting and fishing show The American Sportsman in 1965. One of the first fishing books I purchased in 1966 as a teenager in Kansas was his Complete Guide To Fishing Across The United States, stoking my angling wanderlust.

Salt-Water Fly Fishing (1969)–George X. Sand

Sand’s book, published in 1969, was one of the first to popularize salt water fly fishing.  A true pioneer in bringing saltwater fly fishing to the masses, he writes in an engaging style, adding history to the narrative, and doesn’t overload the reader with technical information and advice.  One of the most serendipitous events of my life has been to cross paths with Sand’s daughter, Gayle, and her husband Tom Norton this past year in the Everglades where we all spend the winter.  As Gayle recounts, she often went with her father on his Florida fishing expeditions when she was a teenager.  She tells a hilarious story of how Sands managed to get such wonderful photos of leaping fish like the barracuda on the book’s cover.  According to Gayle, who is a tall lovely lady, her father would catch a fish then make her wade out into deep water and toss it in the air to be photographed as if he was in the middle of a pier six brawl with his quarry.  That’s just too absurd of a story not to be true!

Fly Fishing In Salt Water (1974)—Lefty Kreh

The inimitable Lefty Kreh moved to Miami, Florida, in the mid-1960s and began to fly fish saltwater in the Keys.  By 1974 he shared his knowledge about how to catch a range of saltwater sport fish like bonefish, tarpon, snook, and permit in this book which has been updated several times and has sold thousands of copies.  He covers a range of topics such as best flies, how to wade the flats, and salt water casting techniques.  Sadly for the angling world, Krey passed away in 2018

Complete Book Of Saltwater Fishing—Milt Rosko

First published in 2001 and updated several times since, Rosko’s book is a comprehensive guide to all types of salt water fishing including from bridges, surf, flats and off shore.  He covers a wide range of topics from tackle to technique to how to cook your catch, all in plain English.  This book is a good one for beginners and those wanting to involve the entire family in the sport.

Blues—John Hersey

John Hersey was a ground-breaking journalist/writer who first made his mark at the end of WWII with a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Bell For Adano, a story about the Allied occupation of a town in Sicily.  He soon followed with a magazine-length article in the New Yorker  titled  “Hiroshima” that recounted the impact of the first atomic bomb on six Japanese citizens.  Hersey went on to write numerous other books and articles and teach writing courses at Yale.  He is probably the only angling writer who has been honored with a Postal Service stamp in his name.  Somehow in the midst of all this prolific production, he penned a book of angling for Bluefish, a quarry prized by saltwater fishermen for their aggressive fighting spirit.  As one reviewer noted, it is a paean to Bluefish that is chummed with  “gobbets of ichthyology, oceanography, seamanship, and fishing lore.”  The organization of the book is rather artificial—a sage old fisherman and neophyte angler meet serendipitously then spend a summer on 12 fishing trips chasing Blues.  For each trip Hersey weaves in fishing tips, thoughts on what motivates anglers, random ocean tidbits, recipes for preparing Bluefish dinners, poems from poets who wrote about fish, and an eloquent, prescient warning about the coming environmental disaster for the seas.  Eclectic indeed, but a good read.

Ninety Two In the Shade—Tom McGuane

When I became a snowbird and took up winter residence in Florida in 2006, I began casting about not only for how-to books but also novels involving salt water fishing that would be a good read.  One of the first that I stumbled on was by my favorite fishing writer, Tom McGuane, titled Ninety-Two In The Shade.  Set in the Keys, it is a tale about a spoiled, profligate young man who decides to get his life together.  He makes a fateful decision to start a fishing guide service and immediately runs aground on the shoals of a couple of crusty, older guides who resent his competition.  That’s when the fireworks begin. The book was made into a movie starring Peter Fonda as the young guide and Warren Oates and Harry Dean Stanton as his antagonists.  Oddly, the movie, which was directed by McGuane and received modest reviews, was reportedly filmed mainly in England.

THE BEST FISHING BOOKS OF ALL TIME: INSTALLMENT #2

Introduction

The Corona virus has afforded time for many of us to fish and to also catch up on reading and reflect. While on the water when I catch a fish using a technique or fly I read about years ago, I find myself reminiscing about the best books on fishing I have had the pleasure of reading. Some taught me a new technique like using a dry/dropper while others were fiction and just pure reading pleasure. If you search online, you will find numerous of lists of the Top 10, 25, and even 50 angling books. Of course these lists change from decade-to-decade as new works are published, older books fade out fashion, or interests change. For example, the 1970s and 80s saw a plethora of tomes like Swisher and Richards Selective Trout that embraced a more scientific approach to fishing. Once you were done reading some of these, you were nearly qualified as an entomologist. Far fewer of that ilk have been published in the last decade. The list I offer here is entirely personal, and given my advanced age, I hope it introduces some of the best of past, especially pre-2000 publications, to the up and coming, energetic angling young bloods of today (AKA anyone under 60).

The format I have chosen is somewhat different than most other “best” lists. I find it hard to compare a serious literary work of someone like Tom McGuane’s The Longest Silence with a funny-bone tickling raucous tale such as Skinny Dip by Carl Hiassen or a technical tome on caddis flies by Gary LaFontaine. So I have divided my list into a baker’s dozen categories with a few select books in each. I end with a category of books I have yet to read but are “musts.” I will be posting the list in a series of five installments. I hope you enjoy perusing my choices, and would welcome hearing of any additions you may have.

The first installment in the series focused on those I consider the Best Literature.  This second installment covers three categories from the list below:  Storytellers, Anthologies, and Oddities.

Installment 1 Link: https://hooknfly.com/2020/08/01/the-best-fishing-books-of-all-time/

Installment 3 Link: https://hooknfly.com/2020/09/11/the-best-fishing-books-of-all-time-installment-3/

Installment 4 Link: https://hooknfly.com/?p=7807

Installment 5 Link: https://hooknfly.com/2020/10/22/best-fishing-books-of-all-time-installment-5/

The Categories:

Best Literature

The Storytellers

Anthologies

Oddities

Funny Bone Ticklers

Zen of Fishing

How To/Technical Expertise

Science and Entomology of Fishing

Travel

Saltwater

History of Fishing

Fish That Shaped World History

The “To Read” List

THE STORYTELLERS

Some of the best fishing books are those penned by accomplished storytellers—writers who relate short, entertaining vignettes and brief evocative descriptions of the angling experience.  John Gierach immediately springs to mind among today’s authors.  Most anglers have heard of him and enjoy his work as I do, but what about Robert Traver?  Traver and Gierach are at the tip top of my list of storytellers, always able to make me laugh and reflect as I recognize my own trials and tribulations on the waters chasing trout.

Trout Madness, being a dissertation on the symptoms and pathology of this incurable disease by one of its victims–Robert Traver (Judge John Voelker)

Before Gierach, Robert Traver was the king of spinning fishing yarns. Trout Madness was published in 1960 under the pseudonym of Robert Traver. In a bygone era when hardly anyone made a living out of writing about fishing, attorney John Voelker (AKA Robert Traver) published Trout Madness which recounts through 21 short stories his adventures and misadventures on the streams and ponds of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. One of the most entertaining is the piece delving into the history of his fishing car, Buckshot. By 1958 Voelker had already established himself as a gifted writer with his best-seller, Anatomy of a Murder, a true story that Otto Preminger turned into an Academy Award nominee starring James Stewart. Voelker soon thereafter retired as a justice of the Michigan Supreme Court to focus on his writing. He followed up with another popular angling book, Trout Magic.

Trout Bum–John Gierach

Gierach is a worthy successor to Robert Traver as the sports’ premier storyteller and his early work, Trout Bum,  is one of his best.  A Colorado resident, Gierach published Trout Bum in 1986, popularizing that term in a book that has become a cult classic and is still my favorite among his prolific productions.  In a series of short stories and tales he captures in a witty fashion the essence, delight, and sometimes comic nature of fly fishing.  Since then he has published 19 other books in the same vein, one about every two-three years. His latest has just been released—Dumb Luck And The Kindness Of Strangers.  All are good reads but are somewhat repetitive.  One of my favorite fishing quips comes from an angler in one of Gierach’s tales, a definition of a fishing buddy:  “Yeah he can be an a**hole, but we get along most of the time.”  As an aside, Gierach probably has the most mispronounced last name among fishing authors.  Variations include Gee-rack, Guy-rish, Guy-rack, etc.  It’s Gear-ash from his own mouth in a musky fishing video that can be found on the web.

ANTHOLOGIES

Fishing has generated more books and literature than any other sport, reflecting its long history and millions of practitioners.  Perhaps as much as any genre of writing, fishing also has a surfeit of anthologies—a collection of stories by multiple authors in one book.   Usually made up of short stories or brief excerpts from a book, anthologies are perfect when you only have a limited time to read a story or two and don’t feel like plunging into a book-length commitment.  They are also a great way to introduce yourself to new writers and their works that you may decide are worth delving into.  I discovered Jim Harrison in that way.  I have listed three of my favorite anthologies below, each compiled by a noted author or publisher who is also an avid, accomplished angler.  Get one, settle back, and enjoy. 

Fisherman’s Bounty/The Gigantic Book of Fishing Stories/Hook, Line, and Sinker—Nick Lyons

Perhaps more than any one person in the modern area, Nick Lyons is responsible for identifying and publishing gifted angling writers.  Lyons was a college English professor and then an executive editor for Crown Publishers, a major press. He went on to create his own publishing company, Lyons Press, which has earned a deserved reputation as the leading publisher of quality fishing books.  His first anthology and still one of the best is Fisherman’s Bounty which came out in 1970.  It includes writings from historical figures like Izaak Walton as well as stories from modern day authors who changed the course of fly fishing with their books in the 1950s-60s like Ernest Schwiebert (Matching the Hatch), and Vincent Marinaro (In The Ring of The Rise).  More recent anthologies like The Gigantic Book of Fishing Stories, which sports an incredible array of writers from Rudyard Kipling to Tom McGuane and John McPhee, and his latest, Hook, Line, and Sinker, carry on his tradition of wonderful anthologies.

Because of his tremendous impact on fly fishing literature, I am including this illuminating interview with Lyons from Fly Dreamers:

Fd: When did you start fly fishing? Can you tell us your memories from those days?

Nick: I had fished from before memory but I only started to fly fish seriously in my early 20s and was immediately mad for it. I had no instruction and found that I could not cast well when I threaded the line through the keeper ring. I fished in Michigan when I was in graduate school and caught nothing in the great AuSable. Back in NYC I fished a little club stream in New Jersey to which an army friend belonged–and finally began to get some fish, which made it all more worthwhile.

Fd: What are the reasons that made you start writing about fishing? What do you think drives people to do that?

Nick: I had been writing literary criticism but one day in my thirties I took a memorable trip to the Beaverkill with a remarkable new friend and immediately wrote “Mecca” and a little later “First Trout, First Lie” about a trout I had gigged in a small Catskill stream in mid-summer. FIELD & STREAM published them a few months later, my first writing about fishing. I loved the new “voice” I had found, so far from the heavy academic prose I had been writing.

Fd: How did you start working on publishing fly fishing books? How did you come across such great authors and works on the early days?

Nick: I was teaching English at Hunter College and (with four young children) took a second job at Crown Publishers. I wanted books closer to my heart than the commercial fare they published. Art Flick’s STREAMSIDE GUIDE was out of print and I wanted a copy so I got the rights and that was the first. Crown asked me to put together an anthology and I compiled FISHERMAN’S BOUNTY and happily this put me in touch with a whole host of first-rate writers, like Marinaro, whom I published next.

Fd: What can you tell us about the process of finding new authors?

Nick: There’s no substitute for reading widely, in all of the magazines on the subject, and in my case I asked just about everyone I came in contact with–or published–for their suggestions and pursued matters from there. I always leaned toward the literary but for non-fiction I tried to think of what “needed” to be done–Lefty Kreh on saltwater fly fishing, Swisher-Richards on new patterns–always the best I could find on worthwhile subjects.

Fd: Out of curiosity, what are the all-time top selling books on fly fishing?

Nick: SELECTIVE TROUT, ART FLICK’S STREAMSIDE GUIDE, PRACTICAL FISHING KNOTS, and THE ORVIS FLY FISHING GUIDE.

Fd: What are your thoughts on the amount of information available on the internet in contrast to the magazine and book industry?

Nick: I try not to follow the internet and consider most of it too simplified, in too many “bites”.

Fd: What are your all-time favorite books and authors related to the outdoors and fly fishing? What recent books would you recommend?

Nick: Ted Leeson, THE HABIT OF RIVERS. Roderick Haig Brown, A RIVER NEVER SLEEPS. Norman Maclean, A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT. Tom McGuane, anything he writes.

Fd: You have published the collected writings of Hemingway and Traver on fishing. Do you think it is possible, in these times, to have another outdoors writer of this level? Or having one that achieves the success of Norman Maclean’s A River Runs Through It?

Nick: I doubt if anyone can match the sales of Maclean, which had a movie to push it along. But McGuane is every bit their equal, though very different.

Fd: How do you envision the future of fly fishing literature?

Nick: It’s getting harder to winnow out the best, with so many people in the pool–but you don’t need a lot of strong writers at any given time, and there are a lot I like. Practical writing is becoming more sophisticated in technical matters–color photography, for example.

Fd: A good fishing story is surely not enough, and a good writer still needs something to write about. What advice would you give to those who want to write about fly fishing?

Nick: Always read the best being written by others–and write from the heart not for the purse. Quintilian says: The heart makes the eloquence.

Fd: Being a key figure in the fly fishing editorial world, have you got a particular aim or message to give out to the global fly fishing community?

Nick: Write less, write more carefully, read the best, write from the heart, avoid all fads.

Fd: Do you consider it important to know about fly fishing history? Why?

Nick: Sure. Faulkner says the past is never past and fly fishing is no exception: knowledge of the past colors everything we do. I’m a passionate supporter of our museums, which preserve and celebrate the past. Some writers, like Theodore Gordon, are eminently wise and readable and often tell us much that we’re forgotten.

Fd: Some fishing. What is your favorite kind of fly fishing (dries, nymphing, streamers, etc.) and what are your favorite spots?

Nick: Dry flies on chalk streams and spring creeks (like a couple I know in Montana).

Fd: As a final point, what does fly fishing mean to you?

Nick: Too much to answer briefly. I guess all the books and articles I’ve written address this. Or I hope so.

Silent Season—Russell Chatham

Russell Chatham, who passed away recently, was a prolific writer of fishing books, but was best known for his beautiful, highly-sought-after artwork that often featured outdoor and angling scenes.  His anthology, first published in 1978 and again in 1988, introduced me to a bevy of writers I had never heard of like Jim Harrison, Jack Curtis, and Harmon Henkin.  It also includes Tom McGuane’s jewel, “The Longest Silence.” A bonus is the illustrations in the book by Chatham.

Into The Backing—Incredible True Stories About The Big Ones That Got Away—And The Ones That Didn’t—Lamar Underwood

What angler could possibly resist a book with this title?  An interesting anthology as it has a unifying them—fighting big fish!  Underwood definitely has the credentials to pull together such a tome—he is the former editor-in-chief of Sports Afield and Outdoor Life. This is one of my favorite anthologies with a smorgasbord of authors ranging from Joe Brooks (The Hat Trick), Roderick Haig-Brown (Episodes from Fisherman’s Spring), and Zane Grey (The Dreadnaught Pool). 

ODDITIES

There is a select group of fishing books that can only be described as outside-the-box oddities.  After reading them you can only shake your head, bemused and semi-bewildered at the fertile mind of the authors who concocted these books and tales.  The first in particular is a mind-blower!

Trout Fishing In America—Richard Brautigan

Leading the pack by a fair margin is Richard Brautigan’s Trout Fishing In America.  Brautigan, a cross between a beatnick and hippie, was a counter-culture, youth movement icon in the riotous 1960s.  Trout Fishing America was published in 1967 and sold over 4 million copies—probably a record among modern angling books.  This is a challenging book to read.  Trout Fishing In America turns out to be a person searching for the meaning of life.  If you can get by this and other odd constructs in the book (perhaps with the assistance of a little cannabis), you will discover some real gems like my favorite vignette, “The Hunchback Trout.”  Brautigan was clearly an avid angler as well as a writer, poet, and free spirit.

Blues—John Hersey

John Hersey was a ground-breaking journalist/writer who first made his mark at the end of WWII with a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Bell For Adano, a story about the Allied occupation of a town in Sicily.  He soon followed with a magazine-length article in the New Yorker  titled  “Hiroshima” that recounted the impact of the first atomic bomb on six Japanese citizens.  Hersey went on to write numerous other books and articles and teach writing courses at Yale.  He is probably the only angling writer who has been honored with a Postal Service stamp in his name.  Somehow in the midst of all this prolific production, he penned a book of angling for Bluefish, a quarry prized by saltwater fishermen for their aggressive fighting spirit.  As one reviewer noted, it is a paean to Bluefish that is chummed with  “gobbets of ichthyology, oceanography, seamanship, and fishing lore.”  The organization of the book is rather artificial—a sage old fisherman and neophyte angler meet serendipitously on a dock and then spend a summer on 12 fishing trips chasing Blues.  For each trip Hersey weaves in fishing tips, thoughts on what motivates anglers, random ocean tidbits, recipes for preparing Bluefish dinners, poems from poets who wrote about fish, and an eloquent, prescient warning about the coming environmental disaster for the seas.  Eclectic indeed, but a good read.

The Feather Thief, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century—Kirk Wallace Johnson

Another book by a journalist, The Feather Thief could be in a class of its own.  It is an oddity not because of the idiosyncrasies of the author and his writing style,  but because of the outrageously bizarre true tale it tells.  Try to imagine a secretive group of fly tiers who will do just about anything and pay any price to get their hands on plumes from endangered and extinct birds so they can tie their gaudy traditional salmon flies to exact specifications set forth in antique books.  Then further imagine among them a young accomplished American flautist/fly tier who in 2009 breaks into a branch of the British Museum outside London and steals the skins of hundreds of rare birds, some centuries old that were gathered by renowned explorers and naturalists.  He proceeds to sell them for thousands of dollars.  Will he be caught and punished?  What happened to all those priceless skins?  It all adds up to an intriguing true-crime novel.

Installment Three will cover Funny Bone Ticklers, Zen of Fishing, and How To/Technical Expertise

THE BEST FISHING BOOKS OF ALL TIME

August 2020

Introduction

The Corona virus has afforded many of us the time to fish and also catch up on reading and do some reflecting on life. When I’m on the water and catch a fish using a technique or fly I read about years ago, I sometimes find myself reminiscing about the best books on fishing I have had the pleasure of reading. Some taught me a new technique like using a dry/dropper while others were fiction and just pure reading pleasure. If you search online, you will find numerous of lists of the Top 10, 25, and even 50 angling books. Of course these lists change from decade-to-decade as new works are published, older books fade out fashion, or interests change. For example, the 1970s and 80s saw a plethora of tomes like Swisher and Richards Selective Trout that embraced a more scientific approach to fishing. Once you were done reading some of these, you were nearly qualified as an entomologist. Far fewer of that ilk have been published in the last decade. The list I offer here is entirely personal, and given my advanced age, I hope it introduces some of the best of past, especially pre-2000 publications, to the up and coming, energetic angling young bloods of today (AKA anyone under 40).

The format I have chosen is somewhat different than most other “best” lists. I find it hard to compare a serious literary work of someone like Tom McGuane’s The Longest Silence with a funny-bone tickling raucous tale such as Skinny Dip by Carl Hiassen or a technical tome on caddis flies by Gary LaFontaine. So I have divided my list into a baker’s dozen categories with a few select books in each. I end with a category of books I have yet to read but are “musts.” I will be posting the list in a series of five installments. This first installment focuses on the category “Best Literature.” I hope you enjoy perusing my choices, and would welcome hearing of any additions you may have.

Installment 2 Link: https://hooknfly.com/2020/08/09/the-best-fishing-books-of-all-time-installment-2/?fbclid=IwAR3uBFsuuSQqAaiHnie6LT3Jhu-PyCm_18sjjmIQeSmognnyJ-8lVyny-34

Installment 3 Link: https://hooknfly.com/2020/09/11/the-best-fishing-books-of-all-time-installment-3/

Installment 4 Link: https://hooknfly.com/?p=7807

Installment 5 Link: https://hooknfly.com/2020/10/22/best-fishing-books-of-all-time-installment-5/

The Categories:

Best Literature (Discussed in detail below)

  • The Longest Silence (Tom McGuane)
  • A River Runs Through It (Norman Maclean)
  • The River Why (David James Duncan)
  • The Nick Adams Story (Ernest Hemingway)
  • My Moby Dick (William Humphrey)

The Story Tellers

  • Trout Madness (Robert Traver)
  • Trout Bum (John Gierach)

Anthologies

  • Fisherman’s Bounty/Full Creel (Nick Lyons)
  • Silent Season (Russell Chatham
  • Into The Backing (Lamar Underwood)

Oddities

  • Trout Fishing In America (Richard Brautigan)
  • Blues (John Hersey)
  • The Feather Thief (Kirk Wallace Johnson)

Funny Bone Ticklers

  • Double Whammy and Skinny Dip (Carl Hiassen)
  • True Love And The Woolly Bugger (Dave Ames)
  • So Long And Thanks For All The Fish:  Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy Book 4 (Douglas Adams)

The Zen Of Fishing

  • The Longest Silence (Tom McGuane)
  • Goodbye To A River (John Graves)
  • The Zen of Fish:  The Story of Sushi (Trevor Carson)

How To/Technical Expertise

  • Streamside Guide To Naturals And Their Imitations (Art Flick)
  • Fly Fishing The Mountain Lakes (Gary LaFontaine)
  • Trout From Small Streams  (Dave Hughes)
  • The Orvis Guide To Small Stream Fly Fishing (Tom Rosenbauer)
  • Fly Casting Techniques  (Joan Wulff)
  • What The Trout Said (Datus Proper)
  • In The Ring Of The Rise  (Vincent Marinaro)
  • Through The Fishes Eye  (Mark Sosin and John Clark)
  • Lefty’s Little Fly-Fishing Tips  (Lefty Kreh)

Science And Entomology Of Fishing

  • Matching The Hatch  (Ernest Schwiebert)
  • Selective Trout  (Doug Swisher and Carl Richards)
  • Stoneflies  (Carl Richards, Doug Swisher, and Fred Arbona, Jr._
  • Caddisflies  (Gary LaFontaine)
  • The Complete Book Of Western Hatches (Rick Hafele and Dave Hughes)
  • Guide To Aquatic Trout Foods  (Dave Whitlock)
  • Mayflies  (Malcolm Knopp and Robert Courmier
  • Hatch Guide For Western Streams/Lakes  (Jim Schollmeyer)
  • The Bug Book  (Paul Weamer)

Travel/Guidebooks

  • Fly-Fishing the 41st  (James Prosek)
  • 52 Rivers:  A Woman’s Fly-Fishing Journey  (Shelly Walchak)
  • The Hunt For Giant Trout  (Landon Mayer)
  • 49 Trout Streams Of Southern Colorado  (Mark Williams and W. Chad McPhail)
  • Fly Fishing The Gunnison Country  (Doug Dillingham)
  • Central Colorado Alpine Lakes Hiking and Fishing Guide  (Tom Parkes)

Saltwater

  • Saltwater Fly Fishing  (Joe Brooks)
  • Salt-Water Fly Fishing (George X. Sands)
  • Fly Fishing In Salt Water  (Lefty Krey)
  • Complete Book Of Saltwater Fishing  (Milt Rosko)
  • Blues  (John Hersey)
  • Ninety Two In The Shade  (Tom McGuane)

History Of Fishing

  • The Compleat Angler  (Izaak Walton and Charles Cotton)
  • American Fly Fishing:  A History  (Paul Schullery)
  • The History Of Fly-Fishing In Fifty Flies  (Ian Whitelaw)

Fish That Shaped The World

  • Cod:  A Biography Of The Fish That Changed The World  (Mark Walker Kurlansky)
  • Shad:  The Founding Fish  (John McPhee)
  • An Entirely Synthetic Fish:  How Rainbow Trout Beguiled America And Overran The World  (Anders Halverson)

The “To Read” List

  • River Music  (James Babb)
  • Fishing For Buffalo  (Robb Bufler and Tom Dickson)
  • Fifty Women Who Fish  (Steve Kantner)
  • Hungry Ocean:  A Swordboat Captain’s Journey  (Linda Greenlaw)
  • Cutthroat And Campfire Tales:  The Fly-Fishing Heritage Of The West  (John Monnett

Best Literature

I distinguish this category from others by several measures.  First, does the book and writing appeal to non-anglers?  If it does, that definitely says something.  Second, what do other accomplished authors who have written acclaimed books have to say about it?  The authors on my list below are real craftsmen with words.  And finally, was it interesting enough to be made into a movie? 

1.  The Longest Silence:  A Life In Fishing—Thomas McGuane

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img_0099.jpg

The Longest Silence is a series of keenly observed essays about the lessons and insights McGuane gleaned from a lifetime spent fishing. James Harrison, a peripatetic poet, novelist, and essayist who himself wrote about fishing and whose novel Legends of the Fall was made into a movie, calls it the best book on angling of all time. I must agree. In his essays, McGuane takes us around the world fishing for tarpon to trout and introduces us to some memorable characters along the way. McGuane, who lives in Montana and continues to write and fish, wrote several other notable books on the outdoors and fishing including his debut novel, The Sporting Club, a dark comedy about the intergenerational conflict between young whippersnapper Baby Boomers and the Greatest Generation. Sound familiar Millenials and GenXers? Another good read, Ninety Two In The Shade, a tale of a young fishing guide running into trouble in the Florida Keys was made into a movie starring Peter Fonda and Warren Oates.

2.  A River Runs Through It—Norman Maclean

Norman MacLean was an English professor at University of Chicago while I was studying there to become a lawyer.  He never wrote a book until he retired, but when he did in 1976, Maclean produced a lyrical, heartbreaking semi-biographical story that became a blockbuster.  One line in A River Runs Through It describes how many of us anglers feel about our sport: “I am haunted by waters.”  In 1992 Robert Redford directed an excellent movie that was true to the book starring Brad Pitt and Tom Skerritt.   As an aside, Maclean’s son John penned a riveting book, Fire On The Mountain, about a wildfire that took the lives of 14 firefighters near Glenwood Springs, Colorado.

3.  The River Why—David James Duncan

How can any angler resist a book that mixes fly fishing, family, and baseball?  However, this is a book that has probably been read by more non-anglers than any other on this list.  The main character Gus is a child fishing prodigy who after he graduates from school sets out to fish his brains out according to a rigourous schedule on the mythical Tamanawis River.  After he finds the body of a dead angler, Gus starts his real journey in life, finding love along the way.  The author Duncan wrote several other acclaimed novels, and The River Why was turned into a movie starring Zach Gifford, Dallas Roberts, and William Hunt that unfortunately did not live up to the book.

4.  Big Two-Hearted River—Ernest Hemingway

Hemingway won a Nobel Prize for his story Old Man And The Sea, so I risk sacrilege by saying for my money his Big Two-Hearted River, the concluding installment in his semi-autobiographical series The Nick Adams Stories, is a better one, especially for anglers.  This tale is about a young man, Nick Adams, just back from World War I and suffering from shell shock, who takes off on a fishing trip to clear his head.  Hemingway’s writing in Big Two-Hearted River is his usual spare, pure style.  As a young law school student in Chicago and aspiring fly fisherman, I loved that title, read the book, and set out to fish the Big Two-Hearted River in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  Fortunately, before I set out I learned that like many in the fishing fraternity, Hemingway was damned if he was going to give away the name and location of a favorite fishing spot.  It was actually the Fox River which I fished one summer between classes, a canoe trip that featured clouds of man-eating mosquitos, few fish, and ended in near disaster when our canoe flipped and we lost our paddles 10 miles from civilization in a dense forest.  Fortunately soon after we started to walk out I spotted one paddle in a sweeper, and we were able to retrieve it and float to safety.

5.  My Moby Dick—William Humphrey

Of all the books on this list, this spare short one is probably the least known and rarely mentioned in the same breath as any of the others.  But as one reviewer wrote, “one of the finest fishing stories ever published, My Moby Dick is a small masterpiece about a whale of a fish.”  In a nutshell, Humphrey spends an entire summer chasing with his fly rod a huge one-eyed trout that he serendipitously stumbles on in a small creek near his vacation home.  Along the way, through his elegant, erudite writing, English professor Humphrey shows us what real literature and writing are like even in telling a fish story.  Humphrey came to writing My Moby Dick after penning acclaimed non-angling books such as Home From The Hill and The Ordways.  Thank our lucky stars he was also an aspiring angler and shared this hilarious tale with us.  It is chock full of wry, smart observations about fly fishing and anglers who pursue trout. Here is but one example:

I had never known a fly fisherman. Since my ignominious failure to make myself one and my retrogression to worms, I had not wanted to know one. …But even if I had known one, known him well, I would not have trusted myself to seek his help now. Indeed, I would have shunned him altogether. He would have surely notice my state of excitement. His curiosity would have been piqued. My eagerness, my impatience to learn and to put my knowledge to work, would have given me away. A wild look, that of one who has gazed on wonders, haunted my eyes in those days. Fly fisherment are a suspicious crew, and their suspicions run on one thing. My secret would have been guessed, and I would have been shadowed to its soure in Shadow Brook.”

Honorable Mention:

A couple of other books that could be on this list are Howell Raines’, Fly Fishing Through The Mid-Life Crisis and Harry Middleton’, The Earth Is Enough: Growing Up In A World of Flyfishing,Trout, and Old Men.  Raines had a storied career with the New York Times before he penned this book after a nasty divorce, producing a beautiful meditation on the “disciplined, beautiful, and unessential activity” we call fly fishing.  Middleton’s book is a memoir of his growing up in the Ozarks and chasing trout with the two old codgers who raise him.  In the process he learns not only the art of fly fishing but also about the beauty and value of nature in life.

The next installment of Best Books will cover Storytellers, Anthologies, and Oddities.

Nomenclature Nag: A Big Beautiful Trout Is NOT A Toad, Slab, or Pig/Hog

July 2020

One of the real satisfactions and enjoyment I get from my Facebook fishing groups is reading posts from young 20- and 30-something anglers like my son as they hone their fly fishing skills while catching (and releasing) some beautiful muscular trout here in Colorado. But I have to admit to an urge to scream and gnash my teeth when these young bloods refer to their trophies as Toads, Slabs, and Pigs/Hogs. I think some of this jargon may have been imported from booyah southern bass fishermen, but whatever the case it seems sacrilegious to use four words in the English language that conjure up ugliness to describe something so rare and stunning or to introduce those terms into the gentle and civilized sport of fly fishing! So in the spirit of imparting some tips on nomenclature from an irascible septuagenarian who has been chasing trout for over 50 years, I offer the following guidance on acceptable terminology for describing your trophy.

First, a short primer on what is NOT allowed:

TOAD—this is what a toad looks like:

SLAB—this is what a slab looks like:

PIG/HOG—this is what a pig/hog looks like:

Now that those pejorative descriptive terms have been banished from your youthful vocabularies, here are some suggestions for more appropriate adjectives to describe your outsized catch:  Monster, Huge, Gigantic, Gargantuan, Colossal, Titanic, Whopper.   And for those of you who want to project a more erudite, cultured aura, please consider Leviathan or Brobdingnagian. 

Thank you, dudes, for considering this rant from an increasingly curmudgeonly old codger. Please resume fishing at your earliest opportunity.

Searching For Fish And Solitude In South Park: The Likeable Lilliputians Of Lost Creek

June 2020

For my earlier articles about seeking fish and solitude in South Park, see my blog from October 2019 and May 2020: https://hooknfly.com/2020/06/07/on-the-road-to-riches-finding-fish-and-solitude-in-south-park/ and https://hooknfly.com/2019/10/07/mission-impossible-searching-for-fish-and-solitude-in-south-park/

Undaunted, I continue my quest for fish and solitude in South Park, Colorado, a vast National Heritage Area whose waters like the South Platte’s Dream Stream and Eleven Mile Canyon attract hordes of anglers like moths to the proverbial flame.  Now admittedly they do catch some trophies, but also find at times six-foot social distancing is a real challenge to achieve.  Not exactly my cup of tea. 

For over twenty years now I have traveled from my cabin near Salida to Denver and back for work and now more often to see my #1 sweetheart granddaughter Aly.  Every time I whizzed by a sign on U.S. Highway 285 near Kenosha Pass beckoning me to the Lost Creek Wilderness. 

Lost Creek Campground–Gateway To Lost Creek Fishing

The preserve, a vast 120,000-acre sanctuary, was created in 1980 in Pike National Forest by the 1980 Colorado Wilderness Act.  Parts of it had been set aside as early as 1963 as a protected scenic area.  It takes its name from the small stream that flows for miles in a wide valley then mysteriously disappears into a jumble of rocks and boulders, only to reappear miles downstream as Goose Creek.    This is not your typical Colorado high-mountain wilderness with jagged peaks covered with snow well into summer.  Instead the more gentle landscape, most of it below treeline, is marked with random knobs, domes, pinnacles, and arches. 

The Gentle Wilderness

There was never much mining or logging here, again in contrast to many other wilderness areas, just mostly grazing.  In the late 1800s there was a uniquely western half-baked reservoir scheme to dam Lost Creek underground where it intersects Reservoir Gulch.  Not surprisingly, the enterprise failed, a few remaining structures testifying to the folly.

Fortunately before it disappears, Lost Creek seems to offer the prospect of over five miles of fishing in a picture-perfect setting.  I figure it’s high time to explore the creek.  My on-line sleuthing finds a lot of information about hiking in the miles of trails in the wilderness, but very little about fishing the creek.  A couple of posts do mention eager brook trout, and that’s enough to tip the scales in favor of some additional on-the-water piscatorial research.

Continue reading